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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Revealed: NSA program collects 'nearly everything a user does on the internet'


• XKeyscore gives 'widest-reaching' collection of online data
• NSA analysts require no prior authorization for searches
• Sweeps up emails, social media activity and browsing history

One presentation claims the XKeyscore program covers 'nearly everything a typical user does on the internet'

Glenn Greenwald
Wed 31 July 2013

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.
The files shed light on one of Snowden's most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.
"I, sitting at my desk," said Snowden, could "wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email".
US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden's assertion: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."
But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.
XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA's "widest reaching" system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet", including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.
Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing "real-time" interception of an individual's internet activity.
Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisa warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a 'US person', though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.
One training slide illustrates the digital activity constantly being collected by XKeyscore and the analyst's ability to query the databases at any time.

The purpose of XKeyscore is to allow analysts to search the metadata as well as the content of emails and other internet activity, such as browser history, even when there is no known email account (a "selector" in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted.
Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.
One document notes that this is because "strong selection [search by email address] itself gives us only a very limited capability" because "a large amount of time spent on the web is performing actions that are anonymous."
The NSA documents assert that by 2008, 300 terrorists had been captured using intelligence from XKeyscore.
Analysts are warned that searching the full database for content will yield too many results to sift through. Instead they are advised to use the metadata also stored in the databases to narrow down what to review.
A slide entitled "plug-ins" in a December 2012 document describes the various fields of information that can be searched. It includes "every email address seen in a session by both username and domain", "every phone number seen in a session (eg address book entries or signature block)" and user activity – "the webmail and chat activity to include username, buddylist, machine specific cookies etc".
Email monitoring
In a second Guardian interview in June, Snowden elaborated on his statement about being able to read any individual's email if he had their email address. He said the claim was based in part on the email search capabilities of XKeyscore, which Snowden says he was authorized to use while working as a Booz Allen contractor for the NSA.
One top-secret document describes how the program "searches within bodies of emails, webpages and documents", including the "To, From, CC, BCC lines" and the 'Contact Us' pages on websites".
To search for emails, an analyst using XKS enters the individual's email address into a simple online search form, along with the "justification" for the search and the time period for which the emails are sought.

The analyst then selects which of those returned emails they want to read by opening them in NSA reading software.
The system is similar to the way in which NSA analysts generally can intercept the communications of anyone they select, including, as one NSA document put it, "communications that transit the United States and communications that terminate in the United States".
One document, a top secret 2010 guide describing the training received by NSA analysts for general surveillance under the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, explains that analysts can begin surveillance on anyone by clicking a few simple pull-down menus designed to provide both legal and targeting justifications. Once options on the pull-down menus are selected, their target is marked for electronic surveillance and the analyst is able to review the content of their communications:

Chats, browsing history and other internet activity
Beyond emails, the XKeyscore system allows analysts to monitor a virtually unlimited array of other internet activities, including those within social media.
An NSA tool called DNI Presenter, used to read the content of stored emails, also enables an analyst using XKeyscore to read the content of Facebook chats or private messages.

An analyst can monitor such Facebook chats by entering the Facebook user name and a date range into a simple search screen.

Analysts can search for internet browsing activities using a wide range of information, including search terms entered by the user or the websites viewed.

As one slide indicates, the ability to search HTTP activity by keyword permits the analyst access to what the NSA calls "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet".

The XKeyscore program also allows an analyst to learn the IP addresses of every person who visits any website the analyst specifies.

The quantity of communications accessible through programs such as XKeyscore is staggeringly large. One NSA report from 2007 estimated that there were 850bn "call events" collected and stored in the NSA databases, and close to 150bn internet records. Each day, the document says, 1-2bn records were added.
William Binney, a former NSA mathematician, said last year that the agency had "assembled on the order of 20tn transactions about US citizens with other US citizens", an estimate, he said, that "only was involving phone calls and emails". A 2010 Washington Post article reported that "every day, collection systems at the [NSA] intercept and store 1.7bn emails, phone calls and other type of communications."
The XKeyscore system is continuously collecting so much internet data that it can be stored only for short periods of time. Content remains on the system for only three to five days, while metadata is stored for 30 days. One document explains: "At some sites, the amount of data we receive per day (20+ terabytes) can only be stored for as little as 24 hours."
To solve this problem, the NSA has created a multi-tiered system that allows analysts to store "interesting" content in other databases, such as one named Pinwale which can store material for up to five years. 
It is the databases of XKeyscore, one document shows, that now contain the greatest amount of communications data collected by the NSA.

In 2012, there were at least 41 billion total records collected and stored in XKeyscore for a single 30-day period.

Legal v technical restrictions
While the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008 requires an individualized warrant for the targeting of US persons, NSA analysts are permitted to intercept the communications of such individuals without a warrant if they are in contact with one of the NSA's foreign targets.
The ACLU's deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, told the Guardian last month that national security officials expressly said that a primary purpose of the new law was to enable them to collect large amounts of Americans' communications without individualized warrants.
"The government doesn't need to 'target' Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications," said Jaffer. "The government inevitably sweeps up the communications of many Americans" when targeting foreign nationals for surveillance.
An example is provided by one XKeyscore document showing an NSA target in Tehran communicating with people in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and New York.

In recent years, the NSA has attempted to segregate exclusively domestic US communications in separate databases. But even NSA documents acknowledge that such efforts are imperfect, as even purely domestic communications can travel on foreign systems, and NSA tools are sometimes unable to identify the national origins of communications.
Moreover, all communications between Americans and someone on foreign soil are included in the same databases as foreign-to-foreign communications, making them readily searchable without warrants.
Some searches conducted by NSA analysts are periodically reviewed by their supervisors within the NSA. "It's very rare to be questioned on our searches," Snowden told the Guardian in June, "and even when we are, it's usually along the lines of: 'let's bulk up the justification'."
In a letter this week to senator Ron Wyden, director of national intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that NSA analysts have exceeded even legal limits as interpreted by the NSA in domestic surveillance.
Acknowledging what he called "a number of compliance problems", Clapper attributed them to "human error" or "highly sophisticated technology issues" rather than "bad faith".
However, Wyden said on the Senate floor on Tuesday: "These violations are more serious than those stated by the intelligence community, and are troubling."
In a statement to the Guardian, the NSA said: "NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests.
"XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA's lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system.
"Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true. Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA's analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks … In addition, there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring."
"Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.
"These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Non-Muslims Carried Out More than 90% of All Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil

Posted on May 1, 2013 by WashingtonsBlog

Terrorism Is a Real Threat … But the Threat to the U.S. from Muslim Terrorists Has Been Exaggerated

An FBI report shows that only a small percentage of terrorist attacks carried out on U.S. soilbetween 1980 and 2005 were perpetrated by Muslims.Princeton University’s Loon Watch compiled the following chart from the FBI’s data (as explained below, this chart is over-simplified … and somewhat inaccurate):Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil by Group, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI DatabaseAccording to this data, there were more Jewish acts of terrorism within the United States than Islamic (7% vs 6%).  These radical Jews committed acts of terrorism in the name of their religion.  These were not terrorists who happened to be Jews; rather, they were extremist Jews who committed acts of terrorism based on their religious passions, just like Al-Qaeda and company.(The chart is misleading in several ways. For example, it labels “Extreme Left Wing Groups” and “Communists”, but not “Extreme Right Wing Groups” or “Fascists”. It should have either discarded all partisan labels, or included labels for both ends of the spectrum.  In addition, “Latinos” is misleading, as Loonwatch is actually referring to Puerto Rican separatist groups, Cuban exile groups and the like.  However, as shown below, many of the basic concepts are correct.)U.S. News and World Report noted in February of this year:Of the more than 300 American deaths from political violence and mass shootings since 9/11, only 33 have come at the hands of Muslim-Americans, according to theTriangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. The Muslim-American suspects or perpetrators in these or other attempted attacks fit no demographic profile—only 51 of more than 200 are of Arabic ethnicity. In 2012, all but one of the nine Muslim-American terrorism plots uncovered were halted in early stages. That one, an attempted bombing of a Social Security office in Arizona, caused no casualties.Wired reported the same month:Since 9/11, [Charles Kurzman, Professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, writing for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and National Security] and his team tallies, 33 Americans have died as a result of terrorism launched by their Muslim neighbors. During that period, 180,000 Americans were murdered for reasons unrelated to terrorism. In just the past year, the mass shootings that have captivated America’s attention killed 66 Americans, “twice as many fatalities as from Muslim-American terrorism in all 11 years since 9/11,” notes Kurzman’s team.Law enforcement, including “informants and undercover agents,” were involved in “almost all of the Muslim-American terrorism plots uncovered in 2012,” the Triangle team finds. That’s in keeping with the FBI’s recent practice of using undercover or double agents to encourage would-be terrorists to act on their violent desires and arresting them when they do — a practice critics say comes perilously close to entrapment. A difference in 2012 observed by Triangle: with the exception of the Arizona attack, all the alleged plots involving U.S. Muslims were “discovered and disrupted at an early stage,” while in the past three years, law enforcement often observed the incubating terror initiatives “after weapons or explosives had already been gathered.”The sample of Muslim Americans turning to terror is “vanishingly small,” Kurzman tells Danger Room. Measuring the U.S. Muslim population is a famously inexact science, since census data don’t track religion, but rather “country of origin,” which researchers attempt to use as a proxy. There are somewhere between 1.7 million and seven million American Muslims, by most estimates, and Kurzman says he operates off a model that presumes the lower end, a bit over 2 million. That’s less a rate of involvement in terrorism of less than 10 per million, down from a 2003 high of 40 per million, as detailed in the chart above.Yet the scrutiny by law enforcement and homeland security on American Muslims has not similarly abated. The FBI tracks “geomaps” of areas where Muslims live and work, regardless of their involvement in any crime. The Patriot Act and other post-9/11 restrictions on government surveillance remain in place. The Department of Homeland Security just celebrated its 10th anniversary. In 2011, President Obama ordered the entire federal national-security apparatus to get rid of counterterrorism training material that instructed agents to focus on Islam itself, rather than specific terrorist groups.Kurzman doesn’t deny that law enforcement plays a role in disrupting and deterring homegrown U.S. Muslim terrorism. His research holds it out as a possible explanation for the decline. But he remains surprised by the disconnect between the scale of the terrorism problem and the scale — and expense — of the government’s response.“Until public opinion starts to recognize the scale of the problem has been lower than we feared, my sense is that public officials are not going to change their policies,” Kurzman says. “Counterterrorism policies have involved surveillance — not just of Muslim-Americans, but of all Americans, and the fear of terrorism has justified intrusions on American privacy and civil liberties all over the internet and other aspects of our lives. I think the implications here are not just for how we treat a religious minority in the U.S., but also how we treat the rights & liberties of everyone.”We agree. And so do most Americans. Indeed – as we’ve previously documented – you’re more likely to die from brain-eating parasites, alcoholism, obesity, medical errors, risky sexual behavior or just about anything other than terrorism.Kurzman told the Young Turks in February that Islamic terrorism “doesn’t even count for 1 percent” of the 180,000 murders in the US since 9/11.While the Boston marathon bombings were horrific, a top terrorism expert says that the Boston attack was more like Columbine than 9/11, and that the bombers are “murderers not terrorists”.  The overwhelming majority of mass shootings were by non-Muslims.  (This is true in Europe, as well as in the U.S.)However you classify them – murder or terrorism – the Boston bombings occurred after all of the statistical analysis set forth above. Moreover, different groups have different agendas about how to classify the perpetrators  (For example, liberal Mother Jones and conservative Breitbartdisagree on how many of the perpetrators of terror attacks can  properly be classified as right wing extremists.)So we decided to look at the most current statistics for ourselves, to do an objective numerical count not driven by any agenda.Specifically, we reviewed all of the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil as documented by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2012). Global Terrorism Database, as retrieved from http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd.The START Global Terrorism Database spans from 1970 through 2012 (and will be updated from year-to-year), and – as of this writing – includes 104,000 terrorist incidents.  As such, it is the most comprehensive open-source database open to the public.We counted up the number of terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims.  We excluded attacks by groups which are obviously not Muslims, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Medellin Drug Cartel, Irish Republican Army, Anti-Castro Group, Mormon extremists, Vietnamese Organization to Exterminate Communists and Restore the Nation, Jewish Defense League, May 19 Communist Order, Chicano Liberation Front, Jewish Armed Resistance, American Indian Movement, Gay Liberation Front, Aryan Nation, Jewish Action Movement, National Front for the Liberation of Cuba, or Fourth Reich Skinheads.We counted attacks by Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Black American Moslems, or anyone who even remotely sounded Muslim … for example anyone from Palestine, Lebanon or any other Arab or Muslim country, or any name including anything sounding remotely Arabic or Indonesian (like “Al” anything or “Jamaat” anything).If we weren’t sure what the person’s affiliation was, we looked up the name of the group to determine whether it could in any way be connected to Muslims.Based on our review of the approximately 2,400 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil contained within the START database, we determined that approximately 60 were carried out by Muslims.In other words, approximately 2.5% of all terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1970 and 2012 were carried out by Muslims.*  This is a tiny proportion of all attacks.(We determined that approximately 118 of the terror attacks – or 4.9% – were carried out by Jewish groups such as Jewish Armed Resistance, the Jewish Defense League, Jewish Action Movement, United Jewish Underground and Thunder of Zion. This is almost twice the percentage of Islamic attacks within the United States.  In addition, there were approximately 168 attacks – or 7% – by anti-abortion activists, who tend to be Christian. Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional  – a Puerto Rican paramilitary organization -  carried out more than 120 bomb attacks on U.S. targets between 1974 and 1983, and there were some 41 attacks by Cuban exiles, and a number of attacks by other Latin American groups. If we look at worldwide attacks – instead of just attacks on U.S. soil – Sunni Muslims are the main perpetrators of terrorism.  However: 1. Muslims are also the main victims of terror attacks worldwide; and 2. the U.S. backs the most radical types of Sunnis over more moderate Muslims and Arab secularists.)Moreover, another study undertaken by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism – called ”Profiles of Perpetrators of Terrorism in the United States” –found:Between 1970 and 2011, 32 percent of the perpetrator groups were motivated by ethnonationalist/separatist agendas, 28 percent were motivated by single issues, such as animal rights or opposition to war, and seven percent weremotivated by religious beliefs. In addition, 11 percent of the perpetrator groups were classified as extreme right-wing, and 22 percent were categorized as extreme left-wing.Preliminary findings from PPT-US data between 1970 and 2011 also illustrate a distinct shift in the dominant ideologies of these terrorist groups over time, with the proportion of emerging ethnonationalist/separatist terrorist groups declining and the proportion of religious terrorist groups increasing. However, while terrorist groups with religious ideologies represent 40 percent of all emergent groups from 2000-2011 (two out of five), they only account for seven percent of groups over time.Similarly, a third study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism Religion found that religion alone is not a key factor in determining which terrorists want to use weapons of mass destruction:The available empirical data show that there is not a significant relationship between terrorist organizations’ pursuit of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear) weapons and the mere possession of a religious ideology, according to a new quantitative study by START researchers Victor Asal, Gary Ackerman and Karl Rethemeyer.Therefore, Muslims are not more likely than other groups to want to use WMDs.* The Boston marathon bombing was not included in this analysis, as START has not yet updated its database to include 2013 terrorist attacks.  3 people died in the Boston attack.  While tragic, we are confident that non-Musliims killed more than 3 during this same period.We are not experts in terrorism analysis.  We would therefore defer to people like Kurzman on the exact number.  However, every quantitative analysis of terrorism in the U.S. we have read shows that the percent of terror attacks carried out by Muslims is far less than 10%.Postscript: State-sponsored terrorism is beyond the scope of this discussion, and was not included in our statistical analysis.  Specifically, the following arguments are beyond the scope of this discussion, as we are focusing solely on non-state terrorism:Arguments by  University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole that deaths from 20th century wars could be labeled Christian terrorismArguments that our recent use of torture and double tap drone strikes are terrorism

UK censorwall will also block "terrorist content," "violence," "circumvention tools," "forums," and more

Cory Doctorow at 10:50 am Fri, Jul 26, 2013
UK PM David Cameron and Claire Perry say that they plan on forcing Britain's ISPs to have a "default-on" censorship app for every connection in the UK. But the UK Open Rights Group have been talking with whistleblowers from the ISPs that have met with the government's censorship grandees, and they report that the censorware will come equipped to block an enormous swath of legal Internet content, and unless you untick the boxes, this will all be censored for your Internet connection:
Do you want to block☑
violent material☑
extremist and terrorist related content
☑anorexia and eating disorder websites☑
suicide related websites☑
web forums☑
esoteric material☑
web blocking circumvention tools

You may be saying to yourself, hell, how are they going to be able to sort out which websites are unacceptably pornographic, let alone which sites are "smoking" related? That's a damned good question, and the answer is "with the broadest brush possible." Huge chunks of the Internet will be effectively unreachable, and which sites go into the censorship bucket will be decided upon in secret, by unelected employees of big corporations, like China's Huawei. Sure, you can untick the box if you want, but as David Cameron's advisors will tell you, defaults are powerful and most users never change them.

Ramadan: a guide for the perplexed | Mehdi Hasan

I'm fasting for Ramadan. It might be a good time to lay to rest some common myths about the whole business

Mehdi Hasan
Wed 3 August 2011

I crawled out of bed this morning at 2.45am, exhausted and bleary-eyed. I wolfed down two eggs, two slices of toast, a croissant, half a banana and several glasses of water. Then I went back to bed.
I performed a similar routine at a similar time yesterday, and the day before that, too. Awoke, ate and slept again. Have I gone mad, I hear you ask? Why do I seem to be having pregnancy-style, middle-of-the-night cravings for fried breakfasts and lots of liquid?
I don't. There's a more prosaic explanation: it is Ramadan and I'm now on to my third day of fasting. Luckily for me, and for the 1.6 billion other Muslims across the world, there are just 27 more days to go. (Is that my stomach I hear groaning?)
Fasting, or "sawm", in Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam – the others being the "shahadah" (declaration of faith), "salat" (the five daily prayers), "zakat" (almsgiving) and the "hajj" (pilgrimage). The fast is considered to be a "wajib" or obligatory act (though there are exemptions that I'll come to in a moment).
Muslims fast for 30 days in Ramadan. Just to be clear: we fast from sunrise (hence the 2.45am wakeup) to sunset (around 9pm at the moment) each day. We don't fast for 30 days as a whole. That, of course, would be impossible. Not to mention suicidal.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is regarded by Muslims as one of the most holy months: we believe that it was during Ramadan that the Qur'an was first revealed to prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.
The Islamic calendar has been lunar since its inception in AD622, with each month beginning with the sighting of a new moon. As the lunar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year, the start date for Ramadan moves back through the western calendar each year. A few years ago, Ramadan coincided with our winter, when the days were shorter and cooler; this year, to much moaning and griping from British Muslims (yes, me included), it's fallen in the summer, with much longer and hotter days. That means the fasting isn't easy. Imagine, for instance, going on the underground in the sweltering August heat without being able to take a bottle of water with you.
In fact, you're not allowed any liquids: no water, no juice, no milk . . . The list of "banned" items and activities in Ramadan is extensive: no cigarettes, drugs, sex, bad language or bad behaviour, from sunrise to sunset. That, dear readers, is the challenge. (In case you're wondering, chewing gum isn't allowed either.)
"Has it begun?" my colleagues asked me earlier this week, their eyes expressing a mixture of sympathy, pity and – just perhaps – awe. Most (well-meaning) non-Muslims view Ramadan as deeply oppressive. Isn't it dangerous, I'm often asked? Doesn't it damage your health? Weaken you?
The short answer is No. Millions (billions?) of Muslims have been fasting for centuries, without suffering any Ramadan-specific illnesses or diseases. Vulnerable groups – the sick, the elderly, children, pregnant women, travellers – are exempt. And, in recent years, a number of academic studies have demonstrated the health benefits of fasting. According to a paper published in April by the Intermountain Medical Centre Heart Institute in Utah, it can lower the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, and keep blood cholesterol levels in check. The researchers found fasting could also reduce other cardiac risk factors such as excess weight, blood sugar levels and triglycerides.
Some of the world's leading athletes and sports stars have managed to fast while performing at the highest levels. Next year, Ramadan starts in July, and will cover the whole period of the Olympics. East London will be home to Muslim athletes from across the world, fasting, competing and – I guarantee you – winning medals.
It's nothing new. In the 90s, Hakeem Olajuwon, a devout Muslim considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of his generation, would often play in the NBA for the Houston Rockets while fasting. "It made me stronger and my statistics went up," he later remarked. "I was better during Ramadan, more focused." In February 1995, Olajuwon averaged an impressive 29 points per game and was named NBA Player of the Month, despite the entire month coinciding with Ramadan.
More recently, Manchester City's Kolo Touré, also a practising Muslim, has had no qualms about fasting and playing top-flight football. "It doesn't affect me physically," Touré argued during last year's Ramadan, which happened to correspond with the first month of the Premier League. "It makes me stronger. You can do it when you believe so strongly in something."
Ramadan becomes an unparalleled, month-long opportunity for personal and spiritual growth – and the fast is a deeply private act of worship. "Of the five pillars of Islam, the fast of Ramadan is perhaps the most personal expression of self-surrender to God," the American writer and convert to Islam, Jeffrey Lang, argues in his book, Even Angels Ask. "We can observe a Muslim performing the other four pillars, but, in addition to himself, only God knows if he is staying with the fast."
So far, I've managed three. Now, what time is it? Noon. Hmm. Just eight hours and 55 minutes to go.

Mehdi Hasan is the senior editor (politics) at the New Statesman and author of The Debt Delusion (Random House).

Saturday, July 27, 2013

U.S. allowed Italian kidnap prosecution to shield higher-ups, ex-CIA officer says "It's time to talk about this," says former CIA operative Sabrina De Sousa.

 A former CIA officer has broken the U.S. silence around the 2003 abduction of a radical Islamist cleric in Italy, charging that the agency inflated the threat the preacher posed and that the United States then allowed Italy to prosecute her and other Americans to shield President George W. Bush and other U.S. officials from responsibility for approving the operation.Confirming for the first time that she worked undercover for the CIA in Milan when the operation took place, Sabrina De Sousa provided new details about the “extraordinary rendition” that led to the only criminal prosecution stemming from the secret Bush administration rendition and detention program launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.The cleric, Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr, was snatched from a Milan street by a team of CIA operatives and flown to Egypt, where he was held for the better part of four years without charges and allegedly tortured. An Egyptian court in 2007 ruled that his imprisonment was “unfounded” and ordered him released.Among the allegations made by De Sousa in a series of interviews with McClatchy:– The former CIA station chief in Rome, Jeffrey Castelli, whom she called the mastermind of the operation, exaggerated Nasr’s terrorist threat to win approval for the rendition and misled his superiors that Italian military intelligence had agreed to the operation.– Senior CIA officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, approved the operation even though there were doubts about Castelli’s case – Nasr wasn’t wanted in Egypt and wasn’t on the U.S. list of top al Qaida terrorists.– Condoleezza Rice, then the White House national security adviser, also had concerns about the case, especially what Italy would do if the CIA were caught, but she eventually agreed to it and recommended that Bush approve the abduction.De Sousa said her assertions are based on classified CIA cables that she read before resigning from the agency in February 2009, as well as on Italian legal documents and Italian news reports. She denies that she was involved in the operation, though she acknowledges that she served as the interpreter for a CIA “snatch” team that visited Milan in 2002 to plan the abduction.“I was being held accountable for decisions that someone else took and I wanted to see on what basis the decisions were made,” she said, explaining why she had delved into the CIA archives. “And especially because I was willing to talk to the Hill (Congress) about this because I knew that the CIA would not be upfront with them.”“I don’t have any of the cables with me. Please put that down,” De Sousa added with a nervous laugh, her unease reflecting the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on leaks of classified information to journalists.De Sousa is one of only a handful of former CIA officers who’ve spoken openly about the secret renditions in which suspected terrorists overseas were abducted without legal proceedings and then interrogated by other nations’ security services.More than 130 people were “rendered” in this way, according to a February 2013 study by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a U.S.-based group that promotes the rule of law. Many were tortured and abused, and many, including Nasr, were freed for lack of proof that they were hatching terrorist plots, said Amrit Singh, the study’s author.Human rights groups and many legal experts denounce rendition as violating not only U.S. and international law, but also the laws of the nations where abductions occurred and of the countries to which suspected terrorists were sent. In December 2005, Rice defended renditions as legal, however, calling them a “vital tool” that predated the 9/11 attacks. She denied that the United State “transported anyone . . . to a country where we believe he or she will be tortured.”The Bush and Obama administrations have never acknowledged U.S. involvement in the Nasr rendition, which makes De Sousa’s decision to speak publicly about it significant, Singh said.“Any public account of what happened and who was ultimately responsible is of considerable interest,” she said. “Despite the scale of the human rights violations associated with the rendition program, the United States hasn’t held a single individual accountable.”The CIA declined to comment, but a former senior U.S. intelligence official called De Sousa’s narrative “fairly consistent” with the recollections of other former CIA officials with knowledge of the operation. He asked not to be further identified because the matter remains classified.“There was concern on the seventh floor about this operation,” he said, referring to the executive offices at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va. “But they were reassured” by the Rome station and the agency’s European directorate that “everything was OK and everyone was on board in the country in question.”De Sousa accused Italian leaders of colluding with the United States to shield Bush, Rice, Tenet and senior CIA aides by declining to prosecute them or even demanding that Washington publicly admit to staging the abduction.Calling the operation unjustified and illegal, De Sousa said Italy and the United States cooperated in “scape-goating a bunch of people . . . while the ones who approved this stupid rendition are all free.”The Senate and House intelligence committees enabled the coverup, De Sousa added, by failing to treat her as a whistleblower after she told them of the lack of prosecutable evidence against Nasr and what she called her own mistreatment by the CIA that compelled her to resign in 2009.“Despite that, no one’s been held accountable,” she said.De Sousa, 57, a naturalized U.S. citizen from India’s state of Goa, was one of 23 Americans convicted in absentia in 2009 by a Milan court for Nasr’s abduction. She received a five-year sentence. An appeals court in 2011 added two more years, and Italy’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence. Nineteen of the Americans, De Sousa said, “don’t exist,” because they were aliases used by the CIA snatch team.The case drew fresh attention this month when Panama detained Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA’s former Milan station chief, whom the Italian court had sentenced to nine years in prison. But Panama released him within 24 hours and allowed him to fly to the United States, rather than wait for Italy to request his extradition.Another convicted American, Air Force Col. Joseph Romano, who oversaw security at Aviano, the U.S. base from which Nasr was flown out of Italy, received a seven-year term. But Italian President Giorgio Napolitano pardoned him in April under U.S. pressure.The Bush and the Obama administrations, however, have refused to ask Italy to do the same for De Sousa, who insists that she qualified for diplomatic immunity as a second secretary accredited to the U.S. Embassy in Rome.“It’s always the minions of the federal government who are thrown under the bus by officials who consistently violate international law and sometimes domestic law and who are all immune from prosecution,” De Sousa said. “Their lives are fine. They’re making millions of dollars sitting on (corporate) boards.”De Sousa’s interviews with McClatchy are the first in which she’s publicly disclosed her decade-long career in the CIA’s undercover arm, the National Clandestine Service. She’s discussed the case with news media before, but insisted in those interviews and in Italian legal proceedings that she was a diplomat.Her only connection to the rendition, she said, was translating between the CIA snatch team and officers from the Italian military intelligence service formerly known by the acronym SISMi.The translating stint “was legal at the time because SISMi was involved” in planning Nasr’s rendition, although SISMi later refused to participate, she said. She said that she was away with her son on a skiing trip when Nasr was abducted.According to De Sousa, the Bush administration had two thresholds for an extraordinary rendition: A target had to be on a U.S. list of top al Qaida terrorists who posed “a clear and imminent danger” to American and allied lives, and the nation where an operation was planned had to make the arrest.Neither occurred with Nasr, De Sousa said.A cleric who preached holy war against the West, Nasr was living in Italy under a grant of political asylum when he was accosted Feb. 17, 2003, by black-suited men on a Milan street as he walked to his mosque. He was bundled into a white van and driven to Aviano, from which he was flown to Germany and then to Egypt.A member of a banned Egyptian Islamist group, Nasr was being investigated at the time by an Italian anti-terrorist police unit known as DIGOS, which had a warrant to eavesdrop on him. He allegedly had close ties to al Qaida and other Islamist groups and arranged for militants to travel to fight in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.But DIGOS made no move to arrest Nasr, De Sousa said, because it had no evidence that he was plotting any attacks. He knew that he was being monitored, she said.Castelli, however, was eager to pull off a rendition, she said, explaining that after 9/11, “everyone around the world” was being pressed by CIA headquarters to “do something” against al Qaida. Castelli, she said, was ambitious and saw a rendition as a ticket to promotion.“Castelli went to SISMi to ask them to work on the rendition program, and SISMi says no,” De Sousa recounted. That, however, “didn’t stop Jeff,” she said.Neither did Lady’s reservations, she said. Close to the DIGOS officer investigating Nasr, Lady often complained to De Sousa that the rendition “made no sense,” because DIGOS had Nasr under surveillance. But the CIA station in “Rome kept constantly pressuring him to proceed with their plans,” she said. Her assertion was corroborated by Lady in an interview with GQ magazine in 2007.Castelli “was hell-bent on doing a rendition,” she said, and he pressed the director of SISMi at the time, Nicollo Pollari, throughout 2002 to agree, according to cables De Sousa found between Castelli and CIA headquarters.“This is very important, because there is a written trail of what was going on,” she said.Pollari refused to budge, telling Castelli that the rendition would be “an illegal operation . . . unless the magistrates approved it,” De Sousa said. Pollari, she said, wanted to wait until the Italian Parliament passed intelligence reform legislation that would have allowed SISMi broader counterterrorism powers.Castelli’s superiors at Langley insisted that SISMi and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had to agree to the operation, or “they couldn’t go to Condoleezza Rice and the president of the United States” for authorization, De Sousa said.“So what does Castelli say? Castelli says, ‘Well, I talked to Pollari and he’s not going to put anything in writing. But wink, wink, nod, nod. You know, wink, wink, he’s provided a tacit sort of approval. They are not going to put anything in writing,’” she said.In an “assessment cable” to CIA headquarters laying out his case for Nasr’s rendition, De Sousa said, Castelli cited the cleric’s suspected al Qaida links and referred to a conversation recorded by DIGOS in which Nasr and another man mused about possibly attacking a bus belonging to the American School of Milan.Yet DIGOS wasn’t “overly concerned because there really wasn’t anything . . . to show that he was actually going to do this,” De Sousa said. “If they thought he (Nasr) was going to go bomb something right away, they would have stopped him, right? It’s not in the . . . Italians’ interest . . . for anything to happen on Italian soil of that nature, because the majority of the students were Italian or nationalities other than American.”“That happened in 2002, and Nasr wasn’t rendered until 2003. So what imminent danger was that?” she asked.The rendition had another problem: There was no outstanding arrest warrant for Nasr from Egypt, she said. To resolve the issue, Castelli asked the CIA’s Cairo station to request one from Omar Suleiman, the powerful intelligence czar for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The warrant was issued. Later, after Nasr had been turned over to the Egyptians, the CIA station in Cairo asked Castelli for the evidence the Egyptians needed to prosecute.“Castelli wrote back and said, ‘I thought you had the information. That’s why you issued the arrest warrant,’” De Sousa said. Cairo replied that Egypt had issued the warrant only “because you needed an arrest warrant.”Despite concerns with the strength of Castelli’s case, CIA headquarters still agreed to move forward and seek Rice’s approval, De Sousa said. She recalled reading a cable from late 2002 that reported that Rice was worried about whether CIA personnel “would go to jail” if they were caught.In response, she said, Castelli wrote that any CIA personnel who were caught would just be expelled from Italy “and SISMi will bail everyone out.”Of her CIA superiors, De Sousa said, “They knew this (the rendition) was bullshit, but they were just allowing it. These guys approved it based on what Castelli was saying even though they knew it never met the threshold for rendition.”Asked which agency officials would have been responsible for reviewing the operation and agreeing to ask Rice for Bush’s authorization, De Sousa said they would have included Tenet; Tyler Drumheller, who ran the CIA’s European operations; former CIA Director of Operations James Pavitt and his then-deputy, Stephen Kappes; Jose Rodriguez, then the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and former acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo.An Italian prosecutor began investigating the CIA’s role in Nasr’s disappearance in 2004, carefully building a case based on the CIA rendition team’s sloppy use of cellular telephones and credit cards. By then De Sousa had returned to the United States and had assumed a new CIA position at headquarters.She was charged by Italian authorities in 2006 in the last of three sets of indictments.The Bush administration remained silent on the Italian charges and ignored De Sousa’s pleas to invoke diplomatic immunity on her behalf. The CIA barred her from contacting her Italian state-appointed public defender, she said, and refused to pay for a private lawyer. The CIA also ordered her not to leave the country, an order she says she disobeyed to fly to India to see her father for the last time as he lay dying from cancer.De Sousa later learned that Rice, after becoming secretary of state, wanted to give her immunity, but that the CIA “told Rice not to” because doing so would have “been admitting that the rendition took place,” De Sousa said.Meanwhile, Castelli, who has retired from the CIA, escaped conviction after an Italian judge conferred diplomatic immunity on him even though Washington hadn’t asked for it, De Sousa said. Earlier this year, an appeals court revoked his immunity and sentenced him in absentia to seven years in jail.De Sousa said that she has tried for years to report what she said was the baseless case for Nasr’s abduction and her shoddy treatment by the CIA and two administrations.Her pleas and letters, however, were ignored by successive U.S. intelligence leaders, the CIA inspector general’s office, members and staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Rice, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder, said De Sousa.She briefly made headlines when she sued the CIA, the State Department and Clinton in 2009 in a bid to secure her diplomatic immunity, but lost. U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell, however, declared herself troubled by the government’s treatment of De Sousa, which she said sent a “potentially demoralizing” message to U.S. employees serving overseas.De Sousa wanted to resign from the CIA earlier than she did, but, she said, her attorney persuaded her to wait for Barack Obama to take office because he might be more sympathetic to her case.“We thought, ‘Hope and change.’ But no hope and change happened,” she said.“My life has been hell,” De Sousa said, explaining that her Italian conviction left her career in ruins, crippled her ability to find a good paying private-sector job and left her liable to arrest abroad. Her resignation, which she submitted after the CIA barred her from visiting her ailing, elderly mother in Goa for Christmas, and then refused to fly her mother to the United States, left her without a pension.“In addition to losing your pension, you’re blacklisted in Washington,” De Sousa said. “Anyone who has anything to do with the agency will never hire you. I lost my clearances.”Asked why she’d agreed to be interviewed, De Sousa replied, “I find this coverup so egregious. That’s why I find it really important to talk about this. Look at the lives ruined, including that of Abu Omar. And I was caught in the crossfire of anger directed at U.S. policy.”Now, she noted, she also could face prosecution in the United States for revealing what she has. “You’ve seen what’s happened lately to anyone who has tried to disclose anything,” she said.But her treatment, she said, provides a warning to U.S. employees serving around the world. If they get prosecuted while doing their jobs, she said, “You have no protection whatsoever. Zero.”

Too much, too fast: the government's 'welfare revolution' starts to unwind


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Birth of a Police State: UK Police to be Granted Sweeping New Powers


Harvard Scientists Urge You to Stop Drinking Milk

Vegans may have had it right all along; while raw, organic milk offers numerous health benefits, a Harvard researcher and pediatrician argues that conventional milk and dairy products alike are a detriment to your health – thanks to added health-compromising sweeteners.As David Ludwig mentioned in his research, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, there have been countless pieces of research concluding the ill effects of sugar-sweetened beverages. The over-consumption of sugar has been tied to obesity, diabetes, inflammatory-related pain, and much more. And because of sugar’s negative effects on our health, even the United States Department of Agriculture, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other organizations are recommending against consuming calories from sugary drinks.The one calorie-containing beverage they still heavily promote, however, is reduced-fat milk, where the organization recommends drinking 3 cups daily. This is where Ludwig questions the scientific rationale for such recommendations.“This recommendation to drink three cups a day of milk – it’s perhaps the most prevailing advice given to the American public about diet in the last half century. As a result, Americans are consuming billions of gallons of milk a year, presumably under the assumption that their bones would crumble without them,” says David Ludwig.As far as Ludwig is concerned, if the USDA is recommending to drink reduced-fat milk, it is also inadvertently encouraging the consumption of added sugars – a piece of advice that goes against all the research saying not to consume sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages. The idea of consuming low-fat milk or chocolate milk cancels out the whole reasoning for the recommendation in the first place since the fats are simply being replaced with dangerous sugars.“The worst possible situation is reduced-fat chocolate milk: you take out the fat, it’s less tasty. So to get kids to drink 3 cups a day, you get this sugar-sweetened beverage,” Ludwig says. ”…we can get plenty of calcium from a whole range of foods. On a gram for gram basis, cooked kale has more calcium than milk. Sardines, nuts seeds beans, green leafy vegetables are all sources of calcium.”

The Case Against Low-Fat Dairy, and Other Dangers of Milk

Harvard researcher David Ludwig certainly has a point in analyzing and ultimately criticizing the USDA’s recommendations, but there is much more to the full-fat vs reduced-fat argument for milk and dairy products.There are plenty of reasons to avoid certain fats such as trans-fats and refined polyunsaturated fats in vegetable oils (like corn, soy, sunflower, and canola), but the evidence for moderate consumption of saturated fat, which is found in milk, coconut oil, and grass-fed land animals, is coming to the surface. While saturated fat was villainized for decades, a 2010 analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of [coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease].”Further, there are numerous benefits to drinking full-fat dairy products. In it’s most pure state (raw, organic, and coming from grass-fed cows), full-fat dairy has been found in research to potentially promote heart health, control diabetes, aid in vitamin absorption, lower bowel cancer risk, and even aid in weight loss. But while pure dairy could promote your health, conventional dairy may prove damaging.Before you consume more conventional dairy, please educate yourself as to what’s in your dairy. You’d be surprised that there could be 20+ painkillers, antibiotics, and much more lurking in your milkRead more: http://www.trueactivist.com/harvard-scientists-urge-you-to-stop-drinking-milk/

Tears of Gaza


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Bigoted Attacks on Palestinian NFL Player Oday Aboushi

When Oday Aboushi was selected by the New York Jets in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft, he knew he had a long and difficult road ahead of him. The 6’6”, 300-plus-pound offensive lineman from the University of Virginia knew that, as a later round draft pick, he’d have to work hard to make the team and would have to stand out in training camp. As a practicing Muslim, he also knew he’d have to perform well in try outs in the grueling summer heat while fasting during the month of Ramadan. If he somehow managed to make the roster and secure a spot on the Jets’ offensive line, he’d then have to face the gargantuan task of keeping Mark Sanchez upright long enough to make a play downfield (that could be a long, long time).

Clearly, it would be an uphill battle. But, Aboushi also knew that he could not only count on the support of Jets fans but, as a Palestinian-American, he could also count on Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims around the country who were thrilled to hear he’d been selected.
There is nothing more mainstream in American culture than sports. Of course Arab and Muslim Americans have been making their mark on sports for decades. Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul Jabbar were Americans who embraced Islam and revolutionized their respective sports, helping to introduce a religion that was foreign to the average American. Doug Flutie, of Boston College-Hail Mary fame, is an Arab American who left an indelible mark on college football. A young cadre of Arab-American stars are also rising in the NHL (yes, Arabs on Ice!), including Nazem Kadri of the Maple Leafs, Justin Abdelkader of Detroit and newly minted Stanly Cup Champion Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks.

So, when a Palestinian-American is drafted into the NFL, the most mainstream of all leagues in America, it is a big deal for a community that has often been ostracized and marginalized, especially in post-9/11 America.

On cue, those who’d hate to see the mainstreaming of Palestinians anywhere in America have begun to attack Aboushi. It began, as so many of these smear campaigns do, at FrontPage Magazine. The website, edited by well-known islamophobe David Horowitz, is home to all sort of virulent anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian dreck. Horowitz has, among other accomplishments, created lists of university professors he deemed anti-American and anti-Israel, largely for simply teaching the subject with some nuance. He's also behind “Islamofacism week” efforts on university campuses.

It was no surprise, then, that his website would publish a hatchet job article on Aboushi alledging that he is anti-Semitic and involved with clandestine terrorist activity. Of course the article, typical of the sort, was filled with wild exaggeration, outright lies, and the sort of guilt by association that is more embarrassing for the author than for the target. It stops just short of telling you that Aboushi’s sister’s boyfriend’s neighbor’s dog once urinated on a fire hydrant a block from a Jewish community center and thus, Aboushi is an anti-Semite.

Among the outlandish accusations in the FrontPage piece was the claim that Aboushi was anti-Semitic for tweeting an image of a Palestinian woman standing outside her house, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, after she'd been evicted so Israeli settlers could take it. Even the State Department deplored such actions by Israel as violations of their obligations. The author even went so far as to try to connect Aboushi to a speaker who the INS charged with being part of a terrorist group. How can the the INS, which dealt with immigration and doesn’t exist anymore, charge people with involvement in terrorism? By doing this in 1988, years before Aboushi was even born, and violating constitutional rights. Perhaps most insidious was the claim that Aboushi was anti-Semitic for using the term Nakba, which Palestinians use to describe the period of their expulsion and disposession from 1947 to 1949. Well, the author probably never learned that it was likely Israeli military who propelled the term into its modern usage. So there you go, the Israeli military is anti-Semitic too.

The article was penned for no reason other than to create a smear campaign against Aboushi and give the Jets a public relations headache so big that they might not find it worth keeping Aboushi on the team. We should hope that this is not what happens, but it's undoubtedly the intention.

This, however, is the level of slime we’ve come to know and expect from FrontPage. What made matters worse was a post by Adam Waksman, a journalist for Yahoo! Sports, which has a reach that is, let’s say, a bit greater than FrontPage. Waksman reprinted many of the worthless accusations in the FrontPage hit job and did not bother to reach out to any of the maligned for comment. He closed by cautioning the Jets organization that this “is a potential disaster that needs to be dealt with before it becomes anything real.”

For a glimpse into what sort of hate these articles conjure up, look no further than the comments. “"Who Is Oday Aboushi?" I think he's a sandn|gger,” wrote one erudite interlocutor. “Send the piece of garbage back to the sand dunes and let him molest goats for a living," said another.

Furthering the hate, a newly hired social media coordinator of MLB.com, Jonathan Mael, tweeted that the Jets “are a disgrace of an organization” and likened Oday Aboushi to Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots’ tight end now facing murder charges in Massachusetts. Now, many might argue that the Jets organization leaves lots to be desired—anyone watching the implosion of the franchise over the past two seasons could make that argument. But to do so simply because they drafted a Palestinian-American?

One of the most beautiful things about sports is the uniform. No matter your background, race, or religion, when you don a Jets jersey, you are a Jet. One Jersey, One Team, One goal. There is no room for hate.

So why would Mael, himself working for and publicly representing a professional sports league in America, decide to further such bigoted and hateful attacks on a symbol of diversity like Aboushi? I’d speculate that Mael’s pro-Israel persuasions—he spent time interning for AIPAC, the best known pro-Israel lobby in the country—trend toward the right--wing end of the spectrum. I’d also like to ask him what in the world he was thinking and whether such behavior is appropriate for an employee of MLB.com. I tried to send him a message on Twitter, but it seems that after that hateful tweet he has deleted his account. Maybe it is he that has something to hide from his employers?

In sum, this entire episode shows you that as a Palestinian public persona, you have to be quiet about your history, beliefs and views or you will be silenced by attackers who want to bring you down. Thankfully, the response to this smear campaign has been strong and it seems Yahoo! Sports has taken down its shoddy article as well. That wouldn’t have been the case 5 or 10 years ago. The right thing to do would be a formal mea culpa from the author. We’ll wait to see if that is forthcoming and hopefully this can be a learning experience for writers and readers alike.

UPDATE: As this article went to print, Jonathan Mael re-activated his Twitter account and posted a two-Tweet apology, misspelling Aboushi's first name. "I apologize to the @nyjets organization and to Obay Aboushi for my insensitive and offensive tweet," he wrote. "The comparison was beyond inappropriate and did not reflect my true beliefs."

Goddamn the neoconservatives

For many years I declared that the neoconservative moment is over, and every time I was wrong. The neocons hung around, they kept their status and influence. There were enough liberals who were tarred by having bought into the neocons' chief mistake, Iraq, that the neocons could maintain an intellectual protection racket. This is surely how establishments work: they maintain a system of rewards and punishments and secrets so that no one steps out of line-- even after they've driven the bus into the gorge.

The neoconservative moment is over.

It ended when the best of the neocons, the most nuanced and presentable, shot himself in the foot twice in recent weeks. David Brooks of the New York Times and NPR first called the children of mixed marriages "mutts" and then after a tidal wave of readers protested, insisted disingenuously that he didn't mean that negatively. And just so we understood his real meaning, a few days later he wrote that Egyptians lack the "basic mental ingredients" to have a democracy-- and that Islamists are missing "intellectual DNA" and "mental equipment."

Brooks "let his veil slip" on bigotry. Such statements are widely considered offensive in modern American culture; and Brooks was at once provoking that culture and taking it on. He seems to have thought that he would find a safe refuge in elite liberal opinion.

But he doesn't have that anymore; in fact he has damaged himself, irrevocably.

We are too far out from the Iraq mistake at this point for the protection racket to work; and we are simply too multicultural a society to tolerate such raw expressions of racial arrogance on the part of entitled media figures.

And yes there's a Jewish piece. Brooks and I both grew up with the belief that Jews are smarter. And maybe we were smarter, back when we were driven outsiders. But we're not smarter anymore. In fact, a lot of us are stupider. And inasmuch as we are missing the new multicultural reality, and offering aid and comfort to Islamophobia, we're history.

Goddamn the neocons. The sooner they are expelled from the American establishment the better. As George Soros said: because of the Iraq War mistake, the U.S. has to undergo a "a certain de-Nazification process," that is to say, it must purge a party of bad thinkers that is all over the Establishment.

Am I too harsh? Here is another Brooks whopper that I missed, in a NYT dialogue about Syria with Gail Collins on June 12 that completely slipped under my radar:
Brooks: Then there is the pure realpolitik reason to do something. We should be trying to turn the Syrian civil war into Iran’s Vietnam. We should make them waste money and effort trying to back their client. For all these reasons, I’m thinking that maybe it’s time for a more active U.S. role.

His interlocutor Gail Collins treated that line as a throwaway. People need to ask Collins: Why are you having a sporting dialogue with someone who makes such repellent statements, and you don't have a response? Turning Syria into Iran's Vietnam! Millions of people died in Vietnam.

And is this the neocons' version of the great game, ten years after they destroyed another great Arab capital?

Michael Ledeen in National Review, back in 2002:

    [Brent] Scowcroft... fears that if we attack Iraq "I think we could have an explosion in the Middle East. It could turn the whole region into a caldron and destroy the War on Terror."

    One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today. If we wage the war effectively, we will bring down the terror regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and either bring down the Saudi monarchy or force it to abandon its global assembly line to indoctrinate young terrorists.

    That's our mission in the war against terror.

    The most dangerous course of action is Scowcroft's: Finesse Iraq, and squander our energies fecklessly trying to broker peace between Israel and the terrorists.

That is the neoconservative great game. Turn the Middle East into a cauldron of fire, or another Vietnam, for the sake of Israel. Goddamn the neocons.

How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages

• Secret files show scale of Silicon Valley co-operation on Prism
• Outlook.com encryption unlocked even before official launch
• Skype worked to enable Prism collection of video calls
• Company says it is legally compelled to comply
Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.

The documents show that:

• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;

• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;

• Microsoft also worked with the FBI's Data Intercept Unit to "understand" potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;

• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;

• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a "team sport".

The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. All the major tech firms are lobbying the government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers' privacy concerns. Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents, and insist the process is driven by legal compulsion.

In a statement, Microsoft said: "When we upgrade or update products we aren't absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands." The company reiterated its argument that it provides customer data "only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers".

In June, the Guardian revealed that the NSA claimed to have "direct access" through the Prism program to the systems of many major internet companies, including Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA operative has a 51% belief that the target is not a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time. Targeting US citizens does require an individual warrant, but the NSA is able to collect Americans' communications without a warrant if the target is a foreign national located overseas.

Since Prism's existence became public, Microsoft and the other companies listed on the NSA documents as providers have denied all knowledge of the program and insisted that the intelligence agencies do not have back doors into their systems.

Microsoft's latest marketing campaign, launched in April, emphasizes its commitment to privacy with the slogan: "Your privacy is our priority."

Similarly, Skype's privacy policy states: "Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the confidentiality of your personal data, traffic data and communications content."

But internal NSA newsletters, marked top secret, suggest the co-operation between the intelligence community and the companies is deep and ongoing.

The latest documents come from the NSA's Special Source Operations (SSO) division, described by Snowden as the "crown jewel" of the agency. It is responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism.

The files show that the NSA became concerned about the interception of encrypted chats on Microsoft's Outlook.com portal from the moment the company began testing the service in July last year.

Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com chats

A newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: "MS [Microsoft], working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal" with the issue. "These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012."

Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the Outlook.com portal.

Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to Outlook email. "For Prism collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com emails will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption."

Microsoft's co-operation was not limited to Outlook.com. An entry dated 8 April 2013 describes how the company worked "for many months" with the FBI – which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley on Prism – to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its cloud storage service SkyDrive.

The document describes how this access "means that analysts will no longer have to make a special request to SSO for this – a process step that many analysts may not have known about".

The NSA explained that "this new capability will result in a much more complete and timely collection response". It continued: "This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established."

A separate entry identified another area for collaboration. "The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with Microsoft to understand an additional feature in Outlook.com which allows users to create email aliases, which may affect our tasking processes."

The NSA has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated 663 million global users.

One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. "The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete 'picture'," it says.

Eight months before being bought by Microsoft, Skype joined the Prism program in February 2011.

According to the NSA documents, work had begun on smoothly integrating Skype into Prism in November 2010, but it was not until 4 February 2011 that the company was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general.

The NSA was able to start tasking Skype communications the following day, and collection began on 6 February. "Feedback indicated that a collected Skype call was very clear and the metadata looked complete," the document stated, praising the co-operation between NSA teams and the FBI. "Collaborative teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the Prism system."

ACLU technology expert Chris Soghoian said the revelations would surprise many Skype users. "In the past, Skype made affirmative promises to users about their inability to perform wiretaps," he said. "It's hard to square Microsoft's secret collaboration with the NSA with its high-profile efforts to compete on privacy with Google."

The information the NSA collects from Prism is routinely shared with both the FBI and CIA. A 3 August 2012 newsletter describes how the NSA has recently expanded sharing with the other two agencies.

The NSA, the entry reveals, has even automated the sharing of aspects of Prism, using software that "enables our partners to see which selectors [search terms] the National Security Agency has tasked to Prism".

The document continues: "The FBI and CIA then can request a copy of Prism collection of any selector…" As a result, the author notes: "these two activities underscore the point that Prism is a team sport!"

In its statement to the Guardian, Microsoft said:

    We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.

    Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren't valid. Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate.

    Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That's why we've argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.

In a joint statement, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of National Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, spokeswoman for the NSA, said:

    The articles describe court-ordered surveillance – and a US company's efforts to comply with these legally mandated requirements. The US operates its programs under a strict oversight regime, with careful monitoring by the courts, Congress and the Director of National Intelligence. Not all countries have equivalent oversight requirements to protect civil liberties and privacy.

They added: "In practice, US companies put energy, focus and commitment into consistently protecting the privacy of their customers around the world, while meeting their obligations under the laws of the US and other countries in which they operate."

• This article was amended on 11 July 2013 to reflect information from Microsoft that it did not make any changes to Skype to allow Prism collection on or around July 2012.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Florida Banned All Computers

The on-the-ball lawmakers of the US state seem to have accidently banned all PCs from Florida in one of the poorest cases of knee-jerk reaction seen in American politics.


It all started after one of its local leading politicians, Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, became involved in an online gambling scandal. It turned out that a charity which she was connected with was closed down on suspicion of being an online gambling front. Although Carroll resigned, her colleagues still wanted to make sure that nobody could gamble online ever again.

Thus, they drafted a law which meant to close down all Internet cafes in Florida (the idea was that if you go to an Internet cafe, you can gamble online). Nevertheless, the wording of the law did more than just shut down Internet cafes – it turned out so broad that it actually banned the use of all PCs and smartphones in the state.

Indeed, the bill signed into law by Florida governor back in April 2013 got about 1,000 cafes immediately closed in a Chinese-style crackdown. The main problem was that the bill defined a gambling slot machine as “any machine or device or system or network of devices” which could be used in games of chance. As such, taken into account that almost every computer can play poker, all computers can be considered illegal. At the moment, Consuelo Zapata, an owner of the Miami-Dade county Internet cafe Incredible Investments, is suing Florida and demanding to overturn the ban, because the definition in question is too broad and could be applied to any number of electronic devices.

It seems that the state will win the “most stupid IT law” award of the year. The other challengers are Arizona, which updated its telecommunications harassment bill to target cyberbullies while making it against the law to troll someone on a message board, and New York, which tried to ban anonymous Internet comments.

Industry experts point out that in case the legislation is allowed to stand, it would mean that every PC, smartphone, smart TV, and games console may be required to be shipped out of Florida just in case they could be used for gambling. As such, it would turn the state into a place that could be quite popular with the Amish but few others. Well, at least they won’t be gambling anymore.


Dodgy Software Jailed UK Post Office Employees

The British Post Office has recently confessed that faulty software has wrongly prosecuted its employees for theft and even forced some of those to pay back what they didn’t steal. Over 100 employees confirm that they were wrongly prosecuted or made to repay money after PCs made non-existent shortfalls – as a result, some of the staff have lost their homes and others were jailed – all because of the software cock-up.


In response, the Post Office explained that according to an internal report, its system was effective, but better training and support was still needed. However, that’s not what independent investigators said after taking a look at the software. The experts said that despite the fact there was no evidence of systemic problems with the core software, it still had bugs. For example, one of those bugs led to shortfalls of up to £9,000 at 76 branches – fortunately, the Post Office later made good those losses, so the sub-postmasters weren’t held responsible.

At the same time, in other cases the problem has mostly been with sub-postmasters running the smaller post offices in the United Kingdom and not directly employed by the Post Office. Those had to balance their books through the Post Office’s Horizon computer system that processes all transactions. It has been for years that sub-postmasters claimed they have been wrongly accused of theft after their PCs notified them of shortages up to thousands of pounds.

Thus, the postmasters had to pay up the missing amounts, lost their contracts and even went to jail. The experts explained that the Post Office’s initial investigation couldn’t at first identify the root cause of the trouble, saying that more help should have been given to sub-postmasters having no way to defend themselves. At the moment, some of the postmasters are thinking of suing.

Germany Will Take Copyright Trolling under Control

German copyright trolls must be very disappointed – a new bill designed to eliminate “dubious” business practices and make them more transparent has just seen the green light.


Copyright holders have liked the phrase “cash settlement” over the past few years, because hunting down file-sharers has become favorite activity which could generate easy money. The other key word was “intimidation”.

Apparently, Germany has had enough of the well-known copyright trolling game which mainly exploited the file-sharing arena. As such, the lawmakers decided to make it a bit harder for the trolls to play by implementing a new legislation designed to discourage unfair business practices.

Attorney Malte Dedden said in the interview with TorrentFreak that the new legislation will change competition law, copyright law, and some others. As for copyright law, the lawmakers want to protect consumers against settlement letters which are too expensive.

Normally, if someone is caught file-sharing a film or a music album, they might be asked by the rights owner to sign an agreement to cease the unauthorized distribution and to pay up. The new law will establish a certain format for the settlement requests. If the requirements aren’t met, the user doesn’t have to pay the copyright owner’s lawyers’ fees and instead can claim lawyer’s fees from him. In the event that the form is correct, the fees will be limited to the amount calculated on value of the matter, which would be some 150 Euros plus expenses.

However, heavy users should understand that this limitation only applies one time with each rights holder. For instance, if someone is caught by Universal’s lawyers once, the next time the case will be more expensive, but the user can still use the new rule for their first Warner Bros infringement.

France Will Not Disconnect File-Sharers

As you know, the infamous French “three-strikes” anti-piracy system was enforced four years ago and under it the authorities could suspend the broadband connection of repeat copyright infringers. So, the news is that the system doesn’t work anymore.


Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy was first to introduce the controversial anti-piracy legislation drafted under the guidance of the entertainment industry. Along with France, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea have also enforced a similar method. In the attempt to smooth things out, the government created a taxpayer-funded outfit named HADOPI, which took on the mission of supervising the monitoring of Internet users and controlling the notification system. In other words, successive notifications were sent to repeat alleged unauthorized file-sharers and if ignored, they led to broadband connections cut-off.

However, this system was met with strong opposition from privacy advocates and web activists. As a result, an official decree published a few days ago by the Socialist government of Francois Hollande got rid of the provision in the legislation which enforced this type of disconnection. Meanwhile, fines and other penalties were kept in the law as before. Minister of Culture Aurelie Filippetti explained that the measure in question was necessary because it ended a penalty which wasn’t suited to the modern world, and because it demonstrated the new orientation of the government’s efforts to fight Internet piracy. The Minister also pointed out that the country’s attempts to fight Internet piracy will be directed from now against the portals that profit from unauthorized file-sharing rather than individual subscribers.

Britain Will Strengthen Cyber Defences

The Ministry of Defense has partnered with 9 top defense firms and is ready to spend over £650 million to improve British defenses against cyber attacks.


Media reports suggested that the partnership in question could mean that more intelligence was shared about the latest cyber threats. At the moment, UK defense companies have to face daily cyber attacks, in most cases from countries which make attempts to steal sensitive data about new technology and weapons.

The new partnership turned out to be a joint effort between the British authorities and 9 large defense companies, aimed at establishing higher standards of security for smaller firms in the supply chain. According to the British intelligence service GCHQ, the United Kingdom was seeing about seventy sophisticated cyber-espionage operations per month against government or industry networks, with 15 of them being against the defense industry.

In the meantime, GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban claimed that business secrets were actually being stolen on an industrial scale – sometimes, intruders from abroad had penetrated companies for more than 2 years. Media reports confirm that the £650 million of new investment will be spent within the next 4 years.

A few months ago, the authorities started the Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership in order to help businesses and government share data on cyber threats. The plan of action included a secure online portal to allow data to be shared in real-time. Etay Maor, fraud prevention manager at Trusteer, pointed out that progress in understanding cyber crime is supposed to be welcomed, but in most cases people who run botnets don’t reside in the place where the crime happens.

In other words, the people who get caught are usually the money mules who may not even be aware that they are committing a crime, while the bot masters and ring leaders are still somewhere else. In order to apprehend these masterminds, law enforcement agencies had nothing to do but to cooperate with local agencies across the globe. Etay Maor explained that it isn’t an easy task, and cyber-criminals know that. This is the main reason why they normally reside in a country where they can stay safe from most western governments.

Hackers Will Face Stiffer Sentences in Europe

EU lawmakers have decided to toughen criminal penalties for hackers. Right now there’s no harmonized legislation within the 28 member states, where sentences vary drastically. So, the decision will enforce national sentences of at least 2 years for illegal access to information systems.


According to media reports, the cyber intruders who take on infrastructure targets can face a sentence of 5 years or even more. At the same time, penalties for unauthorized intercepting communications or developing software for these purposes are also being increased. Apparently, the governments are still able to do this, at least to some extent.

Moreover, the new framework would make an attempt to pursue organizations which benefit from botnets or hire hackers to steal trade secrets. Entities who engage in such kind of practices will be responsible for all offenses committed on their behalf. Nevertheless, it would take up to 2 years to enforce the decision and fix national criminal law accordingly.

In the meantime, experts admit that even after the law is enforced, there will remain a number of European countries who are not going to enter the European Union and therefore won’t have to enforce its laws. This means that the hackers and botnet operators will be able to move to Belarus, Bosnia or Serbia, because they are still under Moscow’s paws and will not enter the EU any time soon, if ever.

American Government Spies via Foreign Telcos

The American government has somehow managed to sign deals with fibre companies from abroad which allowed it to spy on other nations. It turned out that during months of private talks, the FBI lawyers, along with the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, demanded that one Asian company maintain an internal corporate cell of US citizens with government clearances. The demand included ensuring that surveillance requests got fulfilled quickly and confidentially.


The deal was dubbed a “Network Security Agreement”, got signed a decade ago by Global Crossing and became a model for other deals since September 2003. Although the agreements don’t officially authorize spying, they still make sure that when the American government agencies demand access to the massive amounts of information flowing via their networks, the organizations should have systems in place to provide it.

So, the foreign firms are actually forced into the deal because American spooks have the power to order the FCC to forbid them cable licenses. According to media reports, in deals involving a foreign entity, the FCC has held up approval for many months while the team of lawyers developed security agreements which went beyond what was required under the legislation governing electronic eavesdropping. For instance, the security agreement for Global Crossing – an organization whose fibre-optic network connected over two dozen nations and 4 continents – required the entity to have a “Network Operations Centre” on American soil and could be visited by American officials.

Press reports confirmed that all surveillance requests had to be handled by American citizens screened by the authorities and sworn to secrecy. In the meantime, firm’s executives and directors weren’t allowed to know the information being shared.

Anti-Spy Text Messaging App to Be Released

Peter Sunde, the co-founder of the most famous torrent tracker The Pirate Bay, is going to create an easy-to-use secure mobile messaging app and service for both iOS and Android. The app will help to keep government prying eyes at bay.


Peter Sunde borrowed the Swedish word Heml.is for “secret” to name the app. The developer wants to make sure it lives up to its name, and this is why end-to-end encryption was employed to help the users’ communication remain safe from any third party surveillance. It looks like Peter was inspired to develop such an application because of the recent revelations in the media related to the monitoring and surveillance practices of the American and British governments.

In the meantime, the ex-spokesperson of The Pirate Bay further explained the idea of the application in a video, mentioning the scandal which recently made the headlines (PRISM) – a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program which hacked into major Internet companies’ information and accessed people’s emails and documents.

The designers of Heml.is claim they love the worldwide web, social networks and the power it provided for sharing and social connections. However, they don’t like the fact that private communication has turned into an open stream for corporations and governments to spy on.

The app set a goal of $100,000 for crowdfunding. At the moment, the donation counter confirmed that it’s halfway there with over $50,000. People who make donations will be able to access the extended features of the app like sending image messages and other stuff. In addition, pre-registration of username will let people register their usernames prior to app release. Peter Sunder is going to offer the app’s basic functionality for free, but charge for extra features.

Google Developer Infuriated Microsoft

The software giant Microsoft wants the head of a Google developer because the latter told everyone about a hole in its software. Recently, Microsoft claimed that some hackers have attacked personal computers by exploiting a bug in its operating system that was first disclosed a few months ago by a Google researcher.


The snark was made by Microsoft as the company introduced a patch for the flaw a few days ago. It turned out that the bug in question was a zero-day vulnerability linked to the kernel for all editions of the operating system from Windows 2000 to the present.

As a result, Tavis Ormandy, Google security engineer, came under fire as he failed to tell Vole about the vulnerability before making the fact public. Microsoft complained that it urged hackers to launch “targeted attacks” on corporate or government targets, having espionage and sabotage targets in mind.

The security engineer told the world about the disclosure of the bug in the Windows OS before the software giant had released tools to fix it. When asked why he did so, Ormandy explained that Microsoft’s security division was difficult to work with. Moreover, he recommended other researchers to use pseudonyms and anonymous email when getting in touch with Microsoft. In the meantime, Google claimed that the Ormandy incident had nothing to do with the search giant and the chap decided to snarl at Microsoft in his own time.


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